When a team trades a star for a prospect, typically it takes longer than this to realize if the team that dealt the prospect made a mistake. Only three full seasons have passed since the trade that sent R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays and Noah Syndergaard to the Mets, yet it’s already clear the Mets have won. Projecting the future for the players involved only makes it more lopsided in favor of New York. The deal is Exhibit A in the case for Mets GM Sandy Alderson as one of the best dealers in baseball.
The Mets have had many terrible slogans over the years, weak attempts to draw fans to the ballpark to watch a crappy team. In 1998 the motto was the admittedly catchy “Show Up at Shea.” In 2003 it was “Experience It” (“it” apparently referred to a 66-win team). On the heels of a rare playoff appearance, the 2007 slogan was “Your Season Has Come,” a declaration that Mets management has been selling to fans ever since without delivering on the promise. But next year, Matt Harvey is back. The pitching staff is loaded. The good news: Your Season Has Come! The bad news: It looks a lot like the past few seasons.
I’m embarrassed to say this, but I dreamed about Carlos Beltran last night. That, by itself, is not something to be ashamed of, especially for a die-hard baseball fan. The embarrassing part is that I woke myself up shouting, “We’ll miss you, Carlos!” It was one of those moments where I was semi-aware I was sleep-talking, but fell back asleep before I could really process anything.
Carlos Beltran was traded yesterday to the San Francisco Giants for pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, the deal becoming official today.* It was 7.5 years ago that Beltran signed with the New York Mets. Can you believe it’s been that long?
*Given that I’ve never seen Wheeler pitch I’ll just say, all things considered, it seems like a fair trade. It could be great for both teams: the Giants are hoping Beltran helps them defend their World Series title and the Mets hope Wheeler turns into a front-of-the-rotation starter down the line. But 21-year-old pitching prospects are unpredictable and nothing is guaranteed when it comes to playoff baseball, so who really knows?
I wrote about Beltran in the middle of May, noting he was underappreciated by many Mets fans. Since then, the internet campaign to make these people realize Beltran’s value has intensified tenfold. I wrote then that I thought Beltran’s eventual departure would lead to a case of “don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” but as these last couple of months have shown, it’s been more like “don’t know what you’ve got until you realize he’ll inevitably be traded to a contender.”
I find it admirable, but sort of fruitless, that Beltran’s fans have come to his defense. Fans are free to choose their favorite players and it’s not too surprising Beltran wasn’t a popular choice. Fans prefer homegrown talent and the Mets have Jose Reyes and David Wright. After that, they gravitate towards the Joe McEwings, Benny Agbayanis, and Turk Wendells—players who don’t quite look right in a baseball uniform and possess maybe two of the five tools, but find a way to contribute. A great achievement by someone like Beltran would often be followed by, “Yeah, well he’s supposed to do that, he’s paid a billion dollars.”
So if you want to remember Beltran with his bat on his shoulder in Game Six, cool. I’m going to remember him running up that ridiculous hill in Houston. I’m going to remember him making Gary Cohen say, “We’re going home!” I’m going to remember “El Esta Aqui.”
Of course, el no esta aqui, not anymore. I guess my dream was fitting, because from the time I started following baseball to 2004 I could only dream of the Mets having a center fielder like Carlos Beltran. Now I can only dream of one day having another like him.
There has been a lot of talk about a potential New York Mets fire sale. This intensified after Francisco Rodriguez was traded, with fans and writers suggesting Sandy Alderson would gut the roster in order to cut payroll and build for the future. While I certainly don’t think the Mets should or will be buyers at the July 31sttrade deadline, I realize a significant roster makeover is also unlikely.
Jose Reyes, shortstop
Reyes, another free agent after the season, will not get traded. If he were dealt, well, given that I know the location of Alderson’s suite I’d probably have to stay far away from Citi Field. In all seriousness, fans would make the Mets pay for dealing Reyes by not showing up for the meaningless games in August and September. Also, more importantly, Alderson has all but guaranteed Reyes will not be traded. Whether he is re-signed at the end of the season is another story.
David Wright, third baseman
Wright is owed $15 million next year and has a team option for $16 million in 2013. That team option only applies to the Mets, a fact that can’t be stressed enough when discussing Wright’s trade value. Any team that wants to deal for Wright realizes it will only get one full year out of him, while the Mets, if they keep him, will get two years. That makes him a lot more valuable to the Mets than to any other team. In other words, I see very little chance that Wright gets traded. (Note: Wright is currently on the disabled list and an interesting MLB rule states that players on the DL can not be traded.)
Mike Pelfrey, starting pitcher
Pelfrey is earning nearly $4 million this season, so the Mets were hoping for a lot better than a 5-9 record and 4.67 ERA from their Opening Day starter. Pelfrey is not a free agent until after the 2013 season, but his salary could increase through arbitration the next couple of seasons. Considering the Mets had to offer just $1.5 million to acquire Chris Capuano (8-8, 4.12 ERA), Pelfrey is not cheap. I just don’t see the Mets getting much in return for Big Pelf, making him an unlikely trade candidate.
|Beltran will be traded. Wright (back left) will not. Brian Schneider (back right) was once part of a deal for Lastings Milledge. (Credit: Keith Allison)|
Jonathon Niese, starting pitcher; Daniel Murphy, infielder; Bobby Parnell, relief pitcher; Ike Davis, first baseman
These players are valuable to other teams, but they are more valuable to the Mets because they are inexpensive. All of them make a figure close to the MLB minimum of $414,000 (Niese is the highest paid at $452,000). These players won’t be arbitration eligible until 2013, yet they are valuable contributors to the club right now (except Davis, who is on the DL).
Johan Santana, starting pitcher
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Santana, who is on the DL as he recovers from elbow surgery. Even if Santana were to return late this season and pitch well, do you think any team would take on $49.5 million for two years’ worth of a 33-year-old pitcher?
Jason Bay, left fielder
That leaves the “tweeners” like Jason Isringhausen and Tim Byrdak, who won’t cost a trade partner more than a low-level prospect (or a significant financial commitment). They have showed they can be of value to a contending team looking to bolster its bullpen down the stretch.
I’d have to agree that the trading of Rodriguez, Beltran, and Reyes would constitute a fire sale (despite involving just three players). I just don’t see it happening. K-Rod’s departure was necessary, everyone has seen the writing on the wall with Beltran since last year, and Reyes will not be traded. Alderson could plant an “Everything Must Go” sign in front of Citi Field and it wouldn’t make a difference.
Earlier this season my friend Jon, a Mets fan, shared with me his theory on closers: “Every fan hates their closer except Yankee fans.” The basis behind the theory is that no blown save is a good thing, since by definition it prevents your team from winning a game. Some sting more than others, but whether you’re going for a series sweep or trying to stop a three-game losing streak, a blown save is a terrible way to end a game, especially if you invested the full three hours and change into watching it unfold.
Therefore, Jon suggests, only the greatest closer in the history of baseball gets the benefit of the doubt when he blows a save. Everyone else? Well, when all you have to do, generally, is record three outs without giving up the lead, fans expect you to do it.
Francisco Rodriguez, traded last night from the New York Mets to the Milwaukee Brewers, did this much more often than not in his two and a half seasons with the Mets, saving 83 games and blowing 15 for an 85 percent conversion rate, just about the league average for closers over that span.
Memories of games he failed to close—the first Subway Series game of 2009, though it certainly wasn’t his fault; the July 3rd game in Washington last year; the final game in Atlanta earlier this season—are far more vivid than important games he did finish, but that is largely because there weren’t that many important Mets games the last few years.<
No, “K-Rod” was not traded because of poor performance. He was traded because, in the aftermath of 2008, a year in which a shaky Mets bullpen frittered away a playoff spot, Omar Minaya gave Rodriguez a three-year, $37-million contract.* And, in case that wasn’t enough, he threw in a $17.5-million option for next year that kicked in if Rodriguez finished 55 games this year.
*“Shaky” in the same way an 8.7 earthquake is “shaky.”
Having already closed out 34 games this season, the Mets had to deal their closer if they aim to slash payroll next year and re-sign Jose Reyes (the Mets owe $55 million total to David Wright, Jason Bay, and Johan Santana next year).
What exactly the Brewers are getting with Rodriguez, 29, is debatable. His velocity started to decline during his record-setting season with the Angels, and his fastball now tops out around 90 miles per hour. Watching him this year is like watching the relief pitcher version of Tom Glavine (in his Mets years), a guy no longer as confident in his stuff so he nibbles and nibbles and refuses to give in to the hitter. I suppose a pitcher can be effective this way, but Rodriguez’s WHIP this season is an unsightly 1.41, third worst among closers and the highest of his career.
Mets fans know it was never easy with K-Rod, but then again, was it ever easy with Armando Benitez? How about John Franco? Rodriguez made for a better target because of his celebratory antics and off-field altercations, but he was no worse, and in many ways much better, than most of his predecessors.* I’m not saying Rodriguez didn’t underperform in New York, but the team had so many other problems during his tenure that most of the time his performance didn’t matter all that much.
*There was also the huge wad of chewing tobacco that ballooned his cheeks to a cartoonish size, the nearly full water bottle he chucked before exiting the bullpen, and the violent pitching motion that prevented him from fielding anything but a weak tapper to first base side, but those are things that may have bothered me more than other people.
So if, like many Mets fans, you were happy to hear about the trade, the top reason had to be that ugly vesting option for 2012. Now it is gone, but of course, so is the Mets’ closer. Who will step in to replace him—Bobby Parnell and his 100-mph fastball? Jason Isringhausen and his…guile? I’d play the match-ups and ride the hot hand, what is often referred to as a closer by committee. It is unlikely manager Terry Collins will do this. Even in last night’s All Star Game we saw Bruce Bochy manage to the save statistic, and Collins will likely tab one of his relievers as the 9th-inning guy, at least to start.
Whoever takes the reins won’t have his own intro music or paychecks with as many zeros, but there’s no reason he can’t be just as effective as Rodriguez was these past few years.
I spent Father’s Day with my dad, mom, brother, and girlfriend at Citi Field for the 1:10 game between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the New York Mets of Flushing. It was my dad’s idea but I was happy to oblige as I love going to the ballpark, even these days, when the expectations of seeing a win are not high.* Besides, our seats were in the shade so the temperature was perfect, especially after we cooled down with some Shake Shack milkshakes (the most exciting part of the game for 8.5 innings).
*Then again, Megan had never seen the Mets lose. She was 5-0 heading into yesterday’s game, despite attending road games at Fenway and Yankee Stadium.
Shortly after we took our seats my dad commented on how quick the previous night’s game had been. “It was done in under two-and-a-half hours,” my dad said. A middle-aged fan sitting near us butted in: “I think it was like 2:45.” My dad and this gentlemen, who wore a glove despite the fact that he was older than 10, went back and forth a few times on this matter, with my dad noting he saw a plug for the 10:00 news in the ninth inning, when it was 9:20-something. The other guy was sure it was longer than that, and since he had a newspaper he would look it up. I saw him check the box score but he never got back to us. I later checked myself: It was 2 hours and 27 minutes.
This game was relatively fast, too (2:48), but it lasted long enough for about 106 planes to fly overhead. I remarked that in the past few games I’d attended, there had not been nearly as many planes as I recalled seeing at Shea. This prompted a three-and-a-half inning long lecture from my dad on flight patterns, ideal take-off angles, and prevailing winds.
|You couldn’t have asked for a nicer day.|
We spotted general manager Sandy Alderson in his box around the fifth inning. Unlike the previous GM, Omar Minaya, Alderson doesn’t station a stadium employee in front of his suite to deter fans from looking at him. That, more so than fiscal responsibility and sensible free agent signings, is the best part of the new front office.
By the seventh inning stretch, with the Mets down 7-0, Alderson had left. “Even he doesn’t want to watch this team,” my mom noted. Alderson is a Moneyball guy, and if we learned anything from the exhilarating Moneyball movie trailer it’s that the GM does not need to watch the games.
When it came time to get some ice cold Pepsis, we were fortunate to be served by a legendary vendor, one of the few at Citi who I remember from Shea in the late 90’s.* For whatever reason, this guy has never been promoted to selling beer.
*At Shea, they used to discount the fountain sodas after the seventh inning stretch, so naturally my cheap friends and I would wait until then to get a drink. This was true even on one particularly hot summer afternoon, as we sat in the upper deck, unprotected from the scorching sun. My friend Seth and I vowed to wait for the half-price deal to kick in, but by the sixth inning I could wait no more. When the vendor came around, I called to him: “Pepsi. I’ll have a Pepsi.” But given my dehydration I could only muster a faint whisper. “Pepsi. Sir, I’ll take a Pepsi.” He could not hear me. In my head, the story ends with the legendary vendor hearing my cry for refreshment and sprinting from the loge to the upper deck to serve me.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Mets mounted a mini rally. Jose Reyes singled to avoid the shutout, which was good because Megan said she wasn’t coming back to Citi if the Mets failed to score. Two batters later, Beltran singled to make it 7-3, which not only kept the Mets alive, but kept my entry going in Beat the Streak. I’m only at two, but when I break DiMaggio’s mark I’ll look back at Beltran’s unlikely ninth inning at-bat as a turning point.
Since baseball managers are generally paranoid, the Angels brought in a reliever to face the next batter, who turned out to be pinch hitter Scott Hairston. From the moment Reyes had reached base, my dad had been talking about how Jason Bay would likely be the tying run if he came to bat. At the time, it was very unlikely Bay would get that chance. Now we just needed Hairston and the next batter to get on. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Of course, the umpire had other ideas. Like Alderson, he had no desire to stick around longer than he had to, so even though Hairston clearly beat the throw from the shortstop, he was called out, and the game ended.
Megan’s streak was broken but my dad’s remained intact. “I never see them win,” he said at the start of this game. But on a day like that, a victory from the home team seems like too much to ask for.
Did you know the Mets are the third biggest road draw in baseball this season? At Citi Field, however, a ballpark that is in just its third season, only 67.7 percent of the tickets are sold on average for each game, 11th best in MLB.
In 2009, its debut season, Citi Field was a shiny new toy every New Yorker wanted to play with. Kids get bored with toys, though, and the same thing happened at Citi—last year brought a 15 percent drop in attendance and the downward trend continues this season.
There are many reasons for the decline but the economy and the team’s on-field success are the two biggest. I have a better idea of what the future holds for the Mets than I do for the economy, but it’s still just a guess. Independent of those two factors, though, the franchise is working to draw fans to Citi Field and make the experience positive—after all, even those within the organization don’t have full control over the economy and the standings.
As the Mets return to Queens tonight for a six-game homestand, there are certainly things the organization could improve upon.
The Team, The Team, The Team
More than anything, New Yorkers want to support a winner. If the Mets, who lost in excruciating fashion last night to fall one game below .500, can become a legitimate playoff contender, as they were in the last few years of Shea Stadium, fans will flock to the ballpark.
Ownership let fans know that the last few years were unacceptable when it fired manager Jerry Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya after last season. Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson have brought a measure of respect and accountability to the organization, though Mets fans are too smart to celebrate a regime that simply talks about “doing things the right way.”
A promising sign is how the Mets approached last week’s draft. Alderson said the Mets were prepared to spend over slot, meaning they’d sign players for more than the MLB-recommended amount. We won’t know for a couple of months if they followed through, but it would be a welcome change from the organization’s draft stinginess. In the past five drafts combined, the Mets have spent less than all but one team, according to Baseball America. Giving a couple of million bucks to Gary Matthews, Jr. but not to a potential future starting pitcher doesn’t make much sense.
Another area that could use improvement is player injuries. Owner Fred Wilpon said the Mets were “snakebitten,” and he was presumably thinking about the rash of injuries over the past few seasons. Yes, many of the injuries—especially to so many key players—can simply be attributed to bad luck. But I don’t see how the same trainers and the same doctors are still associated with the organization.
If the Mets medical staff can’t do a better job of preventing and/or rehabbing injuries, the organization could at least improve its communication to the media and public.* I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that a player will miss just one game, then two, then three, before finally being placed on the disabled list. Then, a day or two before his scheduled return, we learn about a setback. Hopefully the medical team can do a better job of diagnosing injuries, but the Mets can certainly do a better job of keeping their fans in the loop.
*Last year I saw a “Mets Organizational Decision-Making Flow Chart” on the internet. It was meant to be a joke, but it wasn’t far from the truth, as all injuries, minor or severe, eventually led to a stint on the DL, a setback, and eventually, a PR disaster.
One thing the Mets certainly have going for them is homegrown talent. Nobody in baseball is playing better than Jose Reyes right now; David Wright is hurt but one of the best third baseman in the game; younger guys like Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, and Jonathon Niese have shown great potential.
The most important of these players is Reyes, a free agent after this season. It has gotten to the point where, beyond any ludicrous contract demands, the Mets must re-sign Reyes. For many fans, Reyes is the only reason they keep watching the team. Trading him would be a crippling mistake, and Mets fans can only hope Alderson has the foresight—and funds—to make the right decision.
The Mets lowered ticket prices by an average of 14 percent for this season. Single-game tickets are as cheap as $12 for certain games and can be purchased on StubHub, a Mets partner, for even less.
“We’ve had very aggressive ticket price reductions the last few years to help with the economic impact of the recession,” said Mets Vice President of Baseball Operations Dave Howard.
Field level seats are still more expensive than most would pay for a baseball game, something that happens 81 times a year, and 162 if you count the Yankees’ home games as well. In other words, nearly every night from April-September, a baseball fan in New York can see a game.
“Our competition in New York for the entrainment dollar is not just the Yankees,” Howard said. “You have to look at everything people can do from an entertainment standpoint because that segment of their income is finite and they have many options. We feel it runs everything from movies to Broadway to bowling and all the sports teams. We need to be compelling and be an event that people want to come to and have a high degree of confidence that they will have a great experience.”
|Citi Field had a lot more fans for its first game. (Credit: Metsfan84)|
The Mets are certainly a cheaper—if less successful—alternative to the Yankees, as well as most Broadways shows. But despite the Mets’ lower prices, a ballgame for a family is still expensive. Even with $12 tickets, one must consider parking, food, and drinks, a total sum generally over $100. The Mets have nothing comparable to the following package available for Colorado Rockies games: four tickets, parking, four food and drink vouchers, and a program for $59. It’s a different market in New York, sure, but that doesn’t mean families should be priced out.
“We don’t prohibit people from bringing in sandwiches and bottles of water into the stadium if they’d like to save some money,” Howard said. “We’ve always attracted families and we want to provide a good value for their money.”
The Mets certainly provide good value to those fans willing to make a more hefty investment and become season ticket holders. From offseason receptions with the players to opportunities to do everything from taking batting practice at Citi Field to singing the national anthem before a game, season ticket holders are certainly treated well. I’ve joked that if attendance continues to decline they’ll let a lucky season ticket holder throw out the actual first pitch of every game.
The New World Class Home of Amazin’
Empty seats and a disappointing team don’t change the fact that Citi Field is a beautiful ballpark. I’m the biggest Shea apologist you’ll find, but that’s mostly because of the memories I have there. Once the Mets start winning at Citi, I’m sure I’ll come to love it as well, as it certainly has more to offer than Shea.
“We operate Citi Field with an emphasis on treating people with respect in a friendly and safe environment,” Howard said. “Certainly we want the team to win, but we are most encouraged when we receive testimonials from people who have had a great time and they are raving about the staff.”
Fans who show up early for a game can take cuts in a batting cage just outside the stadium, snap photos in front of the old apple from Shea, or visit the Mets museum. Once inside the park, the most popular destination is beyond center field, where Shake Shack, a dunk tank, a tee-ball field, and other food and entertainment options are located. Unlike at Shea, fans can walk around the stadium’s field level and still stay engaged in the game, as the concourse is open air and provides sight lines to the field.*
*The ONLY downside to the open air architecture is that you lose that “wow” moment you had at Shea, that moment when you walked through the narrow passageway from the concessions area to your seat, when suddenly all you saw was an explosion of green. I spoke about this with Mr. Howard and have discussed it with other fans as well. That moment is the most vivid memory many fans have of stadiums like Shea (and the old Yankee Stadium), and you lose that at Citi. Of course the trade-off—being able to see the field when you visit the concessions—is certainly worth it.
When Citi opened, Wilpon drew criticism for the fact that the Jackie Robinson rotunda was too Dodgers-centric and the stadium as a whole didn’t pay much homage to, you know, the team that actually plays there. Wilpon has since admitted that was a mistake, and has worked to correct it by adding the museum, banners of Mets players, and naming the walkway beyond the outfield wall the Shea Bridge.
It’s hard to find something to complain about, other than, of course, the team itself.
And that is why Citi Field can sometimes feel like a “grave yard” according to Mets starter Mike Pelfrey, who made his debut in 2006. “You can feel when there’s an excitement and an energy in the crowd and when there’s not,” Pelfrey said after a home game earlier this season in which the announced attendance was 30,000 but the actual count was probably 10,000 less. “You definitely notice it if it’s down and as a player you don’t welcome that. You want the sold out crowd. You want it to be jam packed because it makes the game even more fun.”
Pelfrey added that even 20,000 New Yorkers can make their presence known because of the city’s passion for sports. “But it’s not the same as if there were 45,000,” he said.
This problem has a lot more to do with the first two items—the team’s performance and the economy—than Citi Field itself. I have little doubt that if the Mets find themselves in a pennant race Citi could shake like Shea once did (figuratively, if not literally).
An abridged version of this article appeared in the June 8, 2011 issue of amNewYork, a daily newspaper distributed in New York City.